On the heels of protests at last week’s County Commission meeting, Thursday night the Fayetteville City Council voted to rescind the Confederate History proclamation it had issued April 19. The move prompted both gratitude and disappointment.
The proclamation for the Sons of Confederate Veterans (SCV) was met with no resistance at the City of Fayetteville’s April 19 meeting, but the powder keg ignited leading up to a similar proclamation presented at the April 24 County Commission meeting, with a two-hour protest outside commission chambers followed by a lengthy line of speakers inside.
The intense reaction led Fayetteville to reconsider their action, and the City Council voted to rescind the proclamation.
“After deliberation and consideration, we have, in hindsight, determined that the proclamation has gone contrary to what this City Council has worked diligently towards over the last two years I have been the Mayor,” said Mayor Ed Johnson. “We are working to unify this city, and we feel that the proclamation has caused such distress in our city that we want to make sure that we do all that we can to deescalate the situation.”
The motion to rescind was approved 4-0, with Councilman Harlan Shirley not present at the meeting.
In end-of-meeting public comments, area residents spoke on both sides of the debate.
“I would like to thank the council for their decision to rescind the proclamation because of the divisiveness that has been exposed,” said Terry Williamson, President of the local branch of the NAACP.
Williamson noted that he was surprised at the amount of emotion stirred by the proclamation.
“I never foresaw any of the uproar that took place. I am saddened by it, and I don’t think we need it in our county and in our cities,” he said, expressing hope at working with SCV to find common ground in teaching the history of the Civil War era in an inclusive manner. “While we disagree on some things, we saw there are opportunities where we perhaps can work together to do things in a civil fashion that would be more acceptable to all parties.”
Georgia Division of the SCV Commander Scott Gilbert expressed disappointment that Fayetteville would pull back the proclamation in spite of other recognition at the state level.
“Your proclamation goes hand in hand with something that is state law,” he said, saying that Confederate History Month is in the Georgia code, and Confederate Memorial Day is the state’s oldest holiday. In 2015, Georgia officially changed Confederate Memorial Day to “State Holiday.”
Gilbert called SCV a dignified, peaceful organization that has logged thousands of hours volunteering in the community.
“To us, we don’t understand what happened,” he said. “We’ve been doing this for 20-plus years, and there was never, ever a problem anywhere.”
He tied the reaction from the public into the City’s newly updated personnel policy that included punishment for bullying, threats, and intimidation, noting that someone who did not like the proclamation had pushed him at the county meeting.
Gilbert cautioned against giving in to the crowd.
“Every flag, every word you have in this room is subject to the same political correctness test,” he said of the U.S. flag and its 13 stripes representing the original, slaveholding colonies. “I don’t want us to go there. I love the U.S. flag.”
Still, he expressed optimism in working with both Williamson and the City of Fayetteville going forward.
“As an organization, we’re disappointed, but we bear no ill will toward anybody on the Council,” he said. “I beg you to please be open-minded.”
Freddie Jones, calling it the “War for Southern Independence,” lamented those that don’t realize slavery wasn’t the only reason for the Civil War and the Confederacy seceding from the United States.
“I think it’s a shame people don’t study and find out,” he said.
Jones went on to chide the Council for ignoring the sign outside city hall that includes “preserve America.” He contended that Fayetteville was not living up to that line by rescinding a proclamation honoring the Confederate states, which others contend fought to leave the United States of America.
“With the recension of this proclamation, you are not preserving America.”
Mayor Johnson reiterated that the City is doing its best to do right by Fayetteville as a whole.
“I assure you, every member of this Council takes into consideration every voice that’s heard,” he said. “If we offend anyone in the process, just know that we are trying to do the best that we can to make sure that this community is a community that represents the interests of all citizens.”